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Climate change, urbanisation, ageing infrastructure, spiralling energy costs, and an evolving regulatory environment are just some of the challenges facing the global water sector.

A critically important part of water supply and management is how well we are able to treat the enormous amount of wastewater generated worldwide. Global operators in the water treatment sector are required to cope with a variety of factors, as worldwide consumption is predicted to grow by around 25-30% between now and 2040. Current figures suggest:

  • A constantly growing demand for water both for domestic and industrial use.
  • Even more stringent environmental standards, often with differing transcontinental regulations.
  • A compulsive drive by companies and their shareholders to lower operating costs.
  • An increasingly competitive and complex market.

A  N-E-W paradigm

The emergence of what is known as the ‘N-E-W’ paradigm for wastewater treatment works on a basic principle. This paradigm looks to recover valuable resources whilst maintaining water quality standards. As a set of principles for the global wastewater industry to adopt over the coming years, its main tenets are:

  • Nutrient recovery
  • Energy independence
  • Water reuse

In the coming years, rather than a linear approach where water and energy systems are compartmentalised, a ‘watershed’ approach will exist. This will integrate both into a seamless system that feeds back into itself. All this is underpinned by a linked up and big data-driven approach to both engineered and natural systems, along with coordination among agencies managing different facets of water systems.

This means a shift in focus towards optimising efficiency throughout an entire system with the correct combination of technologies, resulting in reduced carbon emissions and lower lifecycle costs.

The role of the wastewater treatment plant in resource recovery

Wastewater treatment plants are a vital connection in terms of developing and ensuring a secure water future. More than 30% of the world’s population experiences water scarcity at least one month per year. Local communities are responding to this challenge through storage, conservation, public outreach initiatives, groundwater management, and water reuse. The last in this list is an approach that can help meet growing water demands while maintaining the security of current water supplies.

Wastewater as a resource

New technologies are becoming able to convert wastewater into a resource for energy generation and a source of drinking water. For example, modular hybrid – activated sludge digesters are now removing nutrients in order for them to be used as fertilisers. In turn, this results in a 50% drop in the energy use needed for treatment.

Nanotechnology for filtration

The following is a good example of how technology is being developed in a forward-looking way to respond to enormous problems in large markets. Researchers in India have come up with a solution to the chronic problem of lack of safe drinking water as well as basic sanitation by creating a water purification system using nanotechnology which is capable of removing microbes, bacteria and other matter from water using composite nanoparticles, which emit silver ions that destroy contaminants.

Challenges lead to opportunities

The industry seems to be responding to the global water situation by:

  • Adopting smart investment and imaginative financing models.
  • Ensuring optimum efficiency in operations through the use of new and efficient processes.
  • Supporting and acting on the drive to meet global emissions reduction targets while delivering significant cost savings in plant operation.

Progress towards this ultimate aim is dependent not only on technological advances in the future but also on a wholesale adoption of high-efficiency technologies that already exist.